Mexico launches search for missing anti-mining activists

Jan 18, 2023, 12:19 AM | Updated: 2:51 pm

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities in western Mexico said Wednesday they have launched a search for two community activists who went missing after their bullet-ridden vehicle was found on a rural roadway.

The two had been active in fighting a massive iron ore mine in the town of Aquila. Inhabitants have long complained the massive open-pit mine caused pollution and drew violence to the area, while offering little benefit to residents.

The town of Aquila is located in area of the western state of Michoacan, which long been disputed between drug cartels. The two disappeared Sunday night on the border between Michoacan and the neighboring state of Colima.

Michoacan Gov. Alfredo Ramírez said Wednesday that authorities in both states had mounted searches for lawyer Ricardo Lagunes and schoolteacher Antonio Díaz.

“We hope to find these two people alive,” Ramírez said. “Prosecutors in both states are searching.”

The U.N. human rights office called on authorities to do more to protect activists.

“The disappearance of these two (rights) defenders is a terrible and alarming thing,” according to a statement by Guillermo Fernández-Maldonado, the Mexico representative of the U.N. rights office.

He said one of the two had been granted government protection, “which did not prevent his disappearance.”

It was not clear which of the men had supposedly been receiving protection. Díaz was a leader in the largely Indigenous community of Aquila, while Lagunes had long been involved in defending communities in several states in land and development disputes.

The Aquila mine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the past, the area’s rich iron ore deposits have drawn the interest of competing drug cartels, which have either extorted money from the mining community, or become directly engaged in the ore trade.

Michoacan has long been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Jalisco cartel and the Viagras cartel, as well as local gangs.

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